Dinner at Mount Julian is always about turning a meal into an incredible experience. So far this summer, we have talked about the atmosphere, the history, and the food, and how those all play a role in writing the story of each individual meal. What we haven’t explored is the wine and how it plays a role in the night. Now it is time to take a trip downstairs to Mount Julian’s wine cellar with our GM Ben, who does all of the wine pairings himself.
As I’ve learned this summer, a good wine pairing makes all the difference. As Ben says, “a great pairing starts with two separate items – a food and a wine – and turns them into one. The wine mellows out, the food becomes richer, and things just… work”. It’s amazing to watch as guests try the wine, try the food, and then try the wine again. Their eyes widen and their faces are taken over with excitement as the wine and the food intermingle to create something even better than either the wine or the food could be on their own. It’s the closest thing to magic that I’ve witnessed. When Ben walks into the kitchen and asks for a sample of the food for the night, glass of wine in hand, I know that something exciting is about to happen. But like any good magician, Ben doesn’t share his secrets lightly. After a little convincing, though, I got to the bottom of the wine story.
Ben’s background with wine really begins with an enjoyment of the stuff. For Ben, it’s not about memorizing details such as what grape comes from what region and which year was better than others. Just like Mount Julian, wine is all about the story. Ben loves what he refers to as the chase, which involves tasting wines against each other, with food, without food, and soaking up each experience to compile a working knowledge of what kind of wine goes best with which food. He “never gets sick of driving around, stopping in on winemakers, and tasting their newest creations”. It’s an adventure that leads to lots of exciting wines on the menu at Mount Julian.
When deciding on which wines to order, Ben has some favoured staples from Prince Edward County mixed with some international choices. Other than that, though, he bases his wine orders on the season. As he explained to me, he is currently “working off the wines [he] picked in the spring for the summery flavours and heat. Lighter wines to go with fresh fruity dishes, cold soups, and similar”. As summer begins to roll into fall, with some of the trees already starting to lose their leaves, he is looking ahead to fuller bodied wines to accompany stewed meats, root vegetables, and rich sauces. A lot of these pairings will come from warmer climates like Australia and California. I have been trying to understand what Ben looks for in a wine, and it really comes down to the wines with stories. Ben explained that he looks for smaller wineries and passionate winemakers, as they produce wines that never fail to be interesting. He often shares stories of how he “find[s] a great wine one year, [buys] enough to regret it shortly thereafter… and a year later, regret[s] that [he] didn’t buy more”. These stories are always shared as the wine is being poured, and never fail to make the wine more interesting and more exciting.
One of the most interesting questions to ask wine enthusiasts is what their favourite wine is. When asked, Ben simply stated that “it depends on the day, the food, who I’m with, the season, what else I’ve had, and my mood. In the winter, with a braised beef with Viamede double smoked bacon, root vegetables, and a mushroom demi-glace, I’ll reach for that Californian Shiraz I’d normally shirk. In the summer, feet dangling off a dock, I’ll take a Viognier spritzer. There’s no shame in that!”
There are so many stories pouring out of the Mount Julian wine cellar. Each wine adds a new patch to the patchwork of stories that blankets a night at Mount Julian, and there is no experience quite like it. The only thing left to do is to see for yourself!